Can a Foreign Nurse Work As an LPN Without a License?

Foreign nurses with licenses make valuable contributions to U.S. health care.
Foreign nurses with licenses make valuable contributions to U.S. health care. (Image: Thomas Northcut/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Nurses from foreign countries who immigrate to the United States can find their way into lucrative work. Nurses are in high demand and a foreign nurse who has her credentials evaluated and certified, and who takes the NCLEX national nurse license exam, will find many opportunities for employment. However, no one can perform nursing of any kind without a professional license. Practicing nursing within the scope of a licensed practical nurse or registered nurse without a license is a criminal offense and can result in a jail or prison sentence.


In the American system, having appropriate education isn't enough to be a legal practitioner. State boards of nursing protect the public by ensuring nurses meet high standards. Although these standards include education, demonstrating critical thinking skills and nursing knowledge via examination is also required before a clinician can lay hands on a patient. Nursing boards also look for an absence of prior criminal activity and of prior professional discipline for poor conduct or malpractice. A person who does not meet these standards is not considered safe to treat patients in any capacity.


Some states allow those educated as registered nurses (RNs) in their home countries to apply for licensed practical nurse (LPN) licenses. Because RN education is more extensive than LPN education, foreign nurses have a good chance of qualifying. However, other states only allow foreign RNs to apply as RNs. If their education is not deemed equivalent or sufficient to meet state standards, they may not be able to work in the nursing field without additional coursework. A foreign nurse should check with his state nursing board for its policies.


A foreign nurse without a license may apply to be a home caregiver for the elderly and disabled. No license is required for assisting with activities of daily living and helping around the house. However, unlicensed nurses need to avoid the temptation of performing nursing interventions despite knowing how to do them. Providing nursing or medical treatment without a license is a crime. Nurses turned caregivers should read the nursing scope of practice laws of their states to understand the tasks they may not perform.


Nurses who decide to pursue an LPN license can apply to any state for initial licensing. Therefore, a foreign nurse who wants American LPN credentials may find it necessary to apply elsewhere if her state doesn't accept RN education for LPN licensing. If a nurse can get licensed as an LPN in one state, laws on licensure by endorsement or reciprocation may offer her the opportunity to eventually gain a license in her state of residence. Nurses should check with their state boards of nursing on licensing by reciprocation or endorsement regulations.

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